Time to waste, so I escape the city
At one of those seedy establishments
They call ‘Glow Shows’ because they fill the girls
So full of Pro’ it nearly burns their veins.
Prometheus, resident wonder-drug;
Pro’, Promo’, ‘Theus, liquid-fucking-light;
Prohibited by city law and shot
By yours truly, Virgil Yorke, hero cop.
These moments, liquid light coursing through me,
Trickling across my veins in streams, feeling
Like fluttering fingers under my skin,
Are all that’s left holding me together.
–Dark Star by Oliver Langmead (2015, Unsung Stories)
Note: Each stanza should begin with an indent. As the formatting here would not allow me to do so, I added a space between stanzas to indicate each new beginning.
I never imagined that I could love epic poetry. My experiences with it come exclusively from high school and college English classes, and my recollections do not include any fondness for the form. Looking back, I think this was largely a contextual problem. Epic poetry written in modern English is both easy and fun to read particularly when the story, like Dark Star‘s story, is a tensely exciting noir mystery that takes place firmly within the beloved bounds of science fiction.
Was this what it felt like to read The Aeneid, The Iliad, or Gilgamesh at the time that they were written?
Before agreeing to read Dark Star for review, I hadn’t realized that it was epic poetry and nowhere on its cover did I find a hint of the form readers could expect inisde. I was inititally daunted. What had I gotten myself into? But not only was the style and cadence easy to fall into, it made for an interesting exercise in concise expression. No book bloat here.
The quote above contains the first three stanzas of Dark Star, and while it did take several pages to get used to reading it, once I did, the pages flew by. Page turning epic fucking poetry in space. Need I say more?
Oh, but I must.
Virgil Yorke is a loser cop. He did something heroic once, something that made him famous but that traumatized him, and now he’s an addict who can’t go more than a day without a hit of Pro’, the liquid light that many inhabitants of the dark starred planet take to compensate for the physical effects of living on such a dark planet. “Hearts” provide the cities with energy, but only the rich can afford much of their illumination, and the rest of the population become light-deprived Ghosts who haunt the edges of society, quietly dying.
In the physics of Langmead’s world fires burn and create heat, but no light. Lit cigarettes release smoke but do not end in a red, glowing eye. I have no idea if there really is a place in the universe where this is possible, but the concept was intriguing. Langmead did an excellent job of integrating these facts into daily life: words are not written and read in ink, but spelled out in a kind of Braille and read per touch, train stations have grooves for passengers to follow to their tracks. Still, there were times when I was uncertain how dark or light the current setting was, and this was the only area in which I think Langmead could have done a better job fleshing out his world.
I was entranced by this strange, dark world and by the broken and deeply flawed character who led us through it in search of answers to both the murder of a young girl and the theft of one of the city’s “hearts.”
Four out of five suns.
Where I got it: Sent by the publisher for review
Where you can get it: Unsung Stories, Amazon UK